mad in pursuit journal


Susan Orlean: Art of Fact

Last night we went to the annual "Art of Fact" award and lecture. The honoree was one of my favorite creative non-fiction authors Susan Orlean. She wrote "The Orchid Thief" -- about orchid collectors in general and particularly about one guy who gets himself in trouble by stealing orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in Florida. It's a study of passion and obsession.* She's also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Orlean reminded me that there are two ingredients to great writing: (a) knowing how to tell a story (natch) and (b) having the guts to get out into the world and explore and challenge everything you thought was true. Spirit of inquiry! Orlean is one of those immersion journalists, who comes up with an interesting idea, then follows it to the nth degree -- like joining a group of gospel singers on their touring circuit for weeks on end.

She's a good inspiration of those of us whose writing may only be about our own humble family histories:

An ordinary life examined closely reveals itself to be exquisite and complicated and exceptional, somehow managing to be both heroic and plain. [from introduction to "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup" by Susan Orlean]

And so I plod on...


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* If you saw the movie "Adaptation," you know about Susan Orlean and the swamp.